Stewart was born in Edwardsville, Illinois in 1812. His parents divorced when he was 12, and he lived with his mother and brothers until adulthood.
He married his cousin Melinda Howard in 1833, and moved to Vandalia, Illinois.
Conversion. Missions, Mormon Migration
Stewart and his family moved to Ambrosia, Missouri in 1838. Later that year Governor Boggs of Missouri issued an Extermination Order for Mormons in that state. The Stewarts returned to Illinois in early 1839.
From April to October 1839 Stewart served a mission with his boyhood friend John D. Lee as his companion. Lee’s own conversion to Mormonism was greatly influenced by Stewart, as Lee would later reveal in his autobiography. Together they preached in Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and they baptized a number of people into the Mormon faith.
Stewart moved his family to Nauvoo, Illinois in early 1840. There he was a member of the Nauvoo Legion, and he helped to construct the Nauvoo Temple. He took part in the School of the Prophets and developed a friendship with Joseph Smith, Jr..
Stewart was called on a mission to Gallatin County, Illinois, together with James Pace in 1843. Again in 1844, he was called to be a missionary in Illinois and also to secure electors to vote for Joseph Smith, Jr. for President of the United States. Smith was murdered that June.
Stewart entered into the practice of polygamy, when he took a second wife, Charity Holdaway, in January 1846. The marriage quickly dissolved when Charity decided that she could not support that lifestyle.
A few months later the Stewarts were forced from their home by a mob, and they relocated to Winter Quarters, Nebraska. They remained encamped in that general vicinity for two years. During that time Levi served as a courier, delivering mail between the Mormon encampments and Nauvoo. In August 1847 Stewart was present at the General Conference at which Brigham Young was proclaimed the Prophet of the Church. He later testified that he beheld Young’s transfiguration at the event.
Years in Salt Lake Area
Stewart was granted a prime lot in central Salt Lake where he set up a home and a successful mercantile business.
He took another wife, Margery Wilkerson, in 1852. His first wife, Melinda, died in 1853 due to complications of child birth after delivering twins. In 1854 he also married Margery’s sister, Artemacy Wilkerson.
At Brigham Young's request, Levi moved to Mills Creek in the Big Cottonwood Canyon to set up a paper mill in 1865.
In the winter of 1869, he accompanied Brigham Young to southern Utah to seek out locations for new Mormon settlement. In 1870, Young directed him to form a settlement at the abandoned outpost of Kanab. Stewart arrived in June. He led a number of families to the area. Stewart became the Bishop of Kanab in September 1870. Over the next several years he directed the construction of dams and roads in the area, and he helped build a good relationship with the local Indians.
On December 14, 1870, his wife Margery, and 5 of his children, were killed in a fire. Stewart’s good friend Brigham Young traveled to Kanab to offer his condolences.
Stewart took a final wife, Susan Eager, in 1874, but the marriage was short-lived.
The last of Stewart's 29 children was born in April 1878. A few months later, Stewart died of a stroke while traveling to Salt Lake City to buy supplies for his mercantile business. His death was mourned by Mormons and Indians alike.
A statue of Stewart now stands in central Kanab on the site of the fort fire that killed his wife and children.
His noteworthy descendants include:
- William Thomas Stewart, his son; mayor of Kanab; Utah Territorial Legislature
- Eliza Stewart, his daughter; 1st telegraph operator in Arizona
- Levi Stewart Udall, his grandson; Chief Justice Arizona Supreme Court
- Ivy Stewart (Houtz) Woolley, his great-granddaughter; Delegate to 1932 Republican National Convention
- Stewart Udall, his great-grandson; U.S. Secretary of the Interior; U.S. Congress from Arizona
- Mo Udall, his great-grandson; Pro basketball player; U.S. Presidential candidate; U.S. Congress from Arizona.
- Mark Udall, his 2nd great-grandson; U.S. Congress from Colorado
- Thomas Stewart Udall, his 2nd great-grandson; U.S. Congress from New Mexico